BREAKING NEWS : One teen dead, second injured in Steuben County crash Full Story

Amputee can feel objects again with prosthetic arm inspired by Luke Skywalker

A team at the University of Utah Center of Neural Sciences developed the "LUKE Arm." It's inspired by Luke Skywalker's robotic hand in Star Wars and helps amputees sense and feel objects.

Posted: Jul 27, 2019 8:40 AM
Updated: Jul 27, 2019 8:40 AM

About 17 years ago, Keven Walgamott lost his left hand and part of his forearm in an electrical accident. Now, Walgamott can use his thoughts to tell the fingers of his bionic hand to pick up eggs and grapes. The prosthetic arm he tested also allowed Walgamott to feel the objects he grasped.

A biomedical engineering team at the University of Utah created the "LUKE Arm," named in honor of the robotic hand Luke Skywalker obtains in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" after Darth Vader slices off his hand with a lightsaber.

A new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics explained how the arm revived the sensation of touch for Walgamott. The University of Chicago and the Cleveland Clinic were also involved in the study.

Previous research has indicated that the ability to feel things is key for amputees. Without that sensation, it's easy to squeeze too hard and crush an object when trying to pick it up using a prosthetic, especially if metal hooks and claws are being used.

The LUKE Arm sends signals to the brain in order to mimic the way a human hand can feel and sense information about an object, like whether it's soft, hard, lightweight or heavy.

"We changed the way we are sending that information to the brain so that it matches the human body. And by matching the human body, we were able to see improved benefits," said Jacob George, study author and biomedical engineering doctoral student at the University of Utah. "We're making more biologically realistic signals."

Walgamott is a real estate agent from West Valley City, Utah. He participated in the study as one of seven test subjects.

During different tests using the LUKE Arm, Walgamott was able to handle fragile objects like removing grapes from their stems and pick up an egg without crushing or cracking them. He was even able to hold his wife's hand and reported having a similar sensation in the fingers of the arm to that of a human hand.

"It almost put me to tears," Walgamott said after using the LUKE Arm for the first time in 2017. "It was really amazing. I never thought I would be able to feel in that hand again."

The researchers used modeling and mathematics to make the arm a success. It was in development for 15 years and is composed of metal motors with a clear silicon overlay that mimics skin. The New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp., founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, created it.

The arm draws power from an external battery and is also wired to a computer.

The university came up with the system that would enable to arm to integrate with the human body so the arm could receive signals. Utah Emeritus Distinguished Professor Richard A. Normann invented the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, a grouping of 100 microelectrodes and wires implanted in the forearm's nerves and connected to an external computer.

The array was able to read signals from the nerves remaining in Walgamott's arm while the computer converted them into digital signals. The signals would act like messages for the arm to move.

But in order to be successful, things would have to work the opposite way as well, meaning the LUKE Arm would need to be able to sense objects and understand the necessary pressure needed to hold them.

Sensors in the hand of the LUKE Arm send signals through the Array to the existing nerves, communicating the feeling the hand should be receiving when it touches something.

This mimics the way signals are sent to the brain when a human hand encounters something for the first time, which relies on an impulse burst released from the nerves to the brain.

To recreate this in the LUKE Arm, the researchers recorded impulses as they happened in a primate's arm. This enabled them to create a model that was integrated into the prosthetic arm system.

"Just providing sensation is a big deal, but the way you send that information is also critically important, and if you make it more biologically realistic, the brain will understand it better and the performance of this sensation will also be better," said Gregory Clark, study team leader and Utah engineering associate professor.

In the study, the LUKE Arm was also able to help sense other things like temperature and pain.

The next steps include creating a more portable arm that doesn't require a computer connection, granting the person wireless freedom. They also believe their findings could be applied to people who were amputated above the elbow, since their arm has only been tested on those with amputations below the elbow.

The researchers hope that study participants could take home the arm to use by 2020 or 2021, but federal regulatory approval is pending.

"One of the first things [Walgamott] wanted to do was put on his wedding ring. That's hard to do with one hand," says Clark. "It was very moving."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 658043

Reported Deaths: 12467
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion902221628
Lake48163871
Allen35614632
Hamilton31884394
St. Joseph29615510
Elkhart25291412
Vanderburgh21148377
Tippecanoe19815197
Johnson16262353
Porter15867268
Hendricks15744297
Clark11860179
Madison11688315
Vigo11520228
Monroe10267158
Delaware9800178
LaPorte9725194
Howard9024194
Kosciusko8519107
Bartholomew7394147
Warrick7380147
Hancock7379128
Floyd7149165
Wayne6597189
Grant6406157
Morgan6044124
Boone604188
Dubois5876111
Dearborn541266
Henry539892
Marshall5397104
Cass538999
Noble507575
Jackson462663
Shelby458890
Lawrence4161111
Gibson400581
Harrison395960
Clinton393353
DeKalb382878
Montgomery382883
Miami355163
Knox354484
Whitley347235
Huntington339276
Steuben336355
Wabash329575
Putnam326559
Ripley325261
Adams320749
Jasper313643
White295651
Jefferson293270
Daviess284496
Fayette270555
Decatur269688
Greene260278
Posey260031
Wells256074
Scott248947
LaGrange240270
Clay239444
Randolph225076
Spencer216130
Jennings214044
Washington208727
Sullivan202239
Fountain200641
Starke186450
Owen181652
Fulton177437
Jay177328
Carroll175718
Perry172635
Orange170450
Rush164222
Vermillion159040
Franklin158435
Tipton145641
Parke138415
Pike127232
Blackford120327
Pulaski106243
Newton96431
Brown94839
Benton91213
Crawford90113
Martin80014
Switzerland7527
Warren74712
Union66810
Ohio52811
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 959995

Reported Deaths: 17045
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1111071193
Cuyahoga945941709
Hamilton72643947
Montgomery46983875
Summit39720942
Butler35094460
Lucas34829757
Stark29061835
Warren22166270
Lorain21781386
Mahoning19282537
Lake18210300
Clermont18200206
Delaware16289129
Licking14832197
Fairfield14401156
Trumbull14171455
Greene13481211
Medina13220219
Clark12139333
Wood11411193
Portage10870153
Allen10715232
Richland10184205
Miami9954179
Columbiana8052179
Muskingum8046123
Tuscarawas7984235
Pickaway796798
Marion7944135
Wayne7799217
Erie6803183
Ross6083136
Geauga5996129
Hancock5945110
Scioto5886105
Ashtabula5884143
Lawrence520373
Union506552
Darke5013122
Belmont483987
Sandusky473393
Jefferson4726107
Huron4722117
Seneca4624103
Athens457331
Mercer4570101
Auglaize454498
Washington452186
Shelby439167
Knox398584
Putnam3967101
Madison389147
Ashland375495
Fulton375364
Defiance3682102
Brown367842
Crawford355396
Preble351070
Logan350158
Clinton336862
Highland324455
Ottawa319667
Williams299777
Jackson287756
Guernsey284034
Champaign283145
Fayette266343
Perry265943
Morrow257224
Henry243665
Holmes2420104
Hardin241957
Coshocton230847
Van Wert227849
Gallia219846
Adams213732
Pike212825
Wyandot207952
Hocking192248
Carroll178928
Paulding158023
Meigs133836
Noble128142
Monroe115336
Morgan99734
Harrison99632
Vinton76515
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
24° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 24°
Angola
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 19°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
23° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 23°
Fort Wayne
Clear
24° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 24°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 30°
Warmer Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events